The Search has ended for now

I should have done this sooner but better late than never. I’m sad to say that family obligations and, well, yes, a yearning for greener pastures (literally) has taken me away from New Mexico. So, there will be no new blog posts here for the time being. I am sure I will be back to New Mexico for the occasional visit but I doubt that I will have time to explore and blog…but you never know so I will leave this open for now.

In the meantime you might enjoy my new blog…. “Rediscovering Oregon” at

Happy Trails,


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San Juan County


When I traveled to San Juan County back in September I came away feeling that the job was not finished, I would have to go back.  I had been plagued by rain to the point of flash flooding and did not get to visit or photograph many of the locations I had in mind.  Yet, over time, I have realized that neither time nor budget will allow for a return trip and within the spirit and scope of the project I had been successful, I had come away with many good images.  Perhaps not as many as were possible but that could be said of any of the counties I have visited.  So, in the interest of moving forward, here is my belated report on San Juan County.

The northwest corner of San Juan County is one of the famous Four Corners of the American Southwest; the only point in the United States where four states meet.  At 5516 square miles San Juan County is the sixth largest in New Mexico and falls only 27 square miles short of equaling the state of Connecticut in size.  Yet, only 6% of that land area is privately owned.  The Navajo nation takes up a large chunk of real estate with the remainder divided between the federal and state governments.

With a 2010 population of 130,044 San Juan is also the 4th most populous county in New Mexico. Over 1/3 of that population is Native American.  The largest city is Farmington with a population of 45,877.  Farmington serves as a retail center for the entire Four Corners region and is also a service center for the oil and gas industry which provides a strong economic base for the area. Though oil and gas were first discovered in the Aztec area in the 1920s, it was not until the construction of the San Juan Basin Natural Gas Pipeline in the 1950s that the industry really began to boom.  Although production has begun to taper off, new extraction techniques such as fracking could bring renewed life to the industry.

chaco_skyThe depth of culture and history in this area is marked by a number of sites preserving the ruins of the Ancient Puebloan culture.  Due to time limitations I did not stop at Chaco chaco_kiva_bwCanyon National Monument on this trip but I think it is only right to include some photos from previous visits to this awesome site.  Here is a picture of a window in one of the pueblos and a black and white rendition of one of the many kivas in the area.

angel_peakMy first stop on this trip was at Angel Peak.  I cannot count the number of times I have driven by the sign pointing to this geologic feature and its associated recreation site but they have been many.  I am glad I finally stopped because the view was well worth it and the colors were enhanced by the recent rainfall and yes I enhanced them even more in Photoshop to celebrate the varied color layers of the landscape. You would never guess from driving by on the highway that this scenery exists just over the hill.  Unfortunately, the experience is dampened somewhat by the constant hum of engines driving the pumps busily extracting natural gas from the ground nearby.

My next stop was iphonographn Aztec, the county seat, which takes its name from the misnamed Aztec Ruiseatns which were once thought to be connected to the Aztec culture of Mexico which is unrelated to the Ancient Puebloan culture which built the ruins. There I found an intriguing hioliverstory museum with many buildings full of artifacts and displays from earlier times.  Here are just a few of the images that came from that visit.singer

I am still sad that rain kept me from doing a walking tour of this small town which boasts many 19th and early 20th century buildings.

The next day I set out to explore the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.  I started withShiprock, a volcanic formation known as a monadnock which rises over 1500 feet abovethe surroundingshiprock desert and dominates the landscape for miles around.

I took a side trip to the Navajo village of Toadlena where an old trading post features the rugs for which the Navajos are famous, along with a museum which at the time of my visit was exhibiting examples of early Hispanic dress and a variety of weaving styles.  Alas, my budget allowed only the purchase of a t-shirt featuring a Navajo weaving pattern but not the real thing

Though I drove all around the main roads I concluded that the stark beauty of the landscape needed something to set it off; a sunset or sunrise or perhaps a thunderstorm.  And while I made it as far as the parking lot of the Bisti wilderness, the mud from the previous day’s rains kept me from venturing down the path to visit the hoodoo formations for which it is known.

On my way back to Farmington I passed by the coal mines that feed the two large power plants located along the San Juan River between Farmington and Shiprock. Tony Hillerman fans may recall that Officer Jim Chee parked his trailer home along the San Juan just outside of Shiprock. The river itself is fed by the Animas and La Plata Rivers which join the San Juan near Farmington then flow on into Utah to empty into the Colorado. This relaztec_ruinsative abundance of water (for New Mexico) supports the numerous small farms from which Farmington takes its name.  Another regret of mine from this trip was that I did not have enough time or good weather to explore the river walk along the Animas River in Farmington which provides an idyllic retreat for the urban area with nearly five miles of walking trails graced by riparian woodlands.

I ended my journey back in Aztec at the Aztec Ruins National Monument.  Though much smaller in scale than the ruins at Chaco Canyon, it is also much more accessible, the pueblos are in relatively good shape and visitors can experience a restored kiva at the end of the walking tour.

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Colfax County

rocky_mountainStretching as it does from the crest of the Rocky Mountains into the Great Plains, I envisioned Colfax to be one of the largest counties in New Mexico.  But in checking the statistics I learned that at 3,771 square miles (that’s bigger than Delaware but smaller than Connecticut) Colfax ranks 17th, or dead in the middle, of New Mexico’s 33 counties.plains

Colfax County, named for Schuyler Colfax, the 17th vice president of the United States (no one seems to know exactly why), is bordered on the west by Taos County, on the east by Union, on the south by Mora and Harding and on the north by the state of Colorado.  Its 2010 population was 13,750 with almost exactly half living in Raton, the county seat. 

sunflowers_whillDespite its middling size, the three days I scheduled for Colfax County were not nearly enough.  I drove a lot of miles but did not hit every road in the county or even every paved road.  It has been a fairly decensunflowert monsoon season in Northern New Mexico and sunflowers have painted much of the landscape of Colfax County yellow.  Driving the back roads of the plains you never know what you might encounter.  boxcarIt might be an old boxcar or an old farm truck.txranch_truck  I also saw a whole flock of wild turkeys but they were too fast for me.

My first stop was the history museum in Springer located in what was once the county courthouse.  Springer was the third in a series of four county seats.  The history of this area is colorful to say the least and is well documented at the museum.  If you are looking for a  mglobeicrocosm of the old Wild West you need look no further than Colfax County.  The Santa Fe Trail, Indian raids, cowboys and land barons, shootouts and lynchings, it all played out it Colfax County.  As a photographer though, it’s often the little things that trip my trigger.  This old school globe and Coca-Cola cooler were both found at the museum.

In order to understand present day Colfax County you need to understand something of its past.  I’ll try to be brief but it is not easy.  In 1841 a French Canadian trappeserve_yourselfr named Charles Beaubien and his partner Guadalupe Miranda petitioned the Mexican government for a land grant which they received on condition that they encourage the land to be settled. When Beaubien’s son was killed in the Taos Revolt of 1847, protesting the ascension of the United States Government after the Mexican-American War, Beaubien hired his son-in-law Lucian Maxwell to manage the grant lands. Maxwell, who came to New Mexico as a fur trader and was a close friend of Kit Carson, established his headquarters at Rayado and later moved north to Cimarron (Spanish for wild or unruly, I suspect the appellation was first applied to the river that runs through it but history tells us it was a fitting name for the town as well).   When Beaubien died in 1864 Maxwell reportedly bought out the remaining land grant heirs amassing a total of 1, 714,765 acres or about 2214 square miles (slightly smaller than the state of Delaware) which represented most of what would become western Colfax County. (At the time of the issuance of the Land Grant the area was included in Taos County which in 1859 was split apart to form Mora County.  Colfax County was created in 1869 and later lost some of its territory to form Union County).  This was at the time the largest private land holding in the Western Hemisphere and became known as the Maxwell Land Grant.

When gold was discovered in 1866 on Maxwell Land, Lucien became extremely wealthy in dollars as well as land, mainly from leasing his land to the miners.  When Colfax County was formed in 1869, Elizabethtown, the center of the gold rush, became the county seat. (Some 25 or so years ago a friend and I stumbled onto the ruins of Elizabethtown while driving the Enchanted Circle…I searched for them again this trip but they appear to have faded into the landscape or been removed by owners of one of the many ranchettes that have sprung up in this area just north of Eagle Nest…either that or I blinked at the wrong time).  In 1872 Maxwell sold the Land Grant to a syndicate of English investors.  Thus began the Colfax County war when the Company insisted that settlers on grant lands…some of whom had been there for 30 years…either buy their land or clear out.  Conflict between the settlers (called squatters by the company) and their supporters and the Company led to numerous deaths and shootouts and did not end until an 1887 decision by the Supreme Court affirmed the rights of the Maxwell Land Grant Company in ownership of the land.

The Land Grant headquarters remained in Cimarron for a time and gold played out in E-town so Cimarron became the county seat from 1872 to 1882.  When the railroad came in, bypassing Cimarron some ways to the east, the county seat, along with the headquarters of the Maxwell Land Grant Company, were moved to Springer a town carved out of the land grant by brothers Charles and Frank Springer, a rancher near Cimarron and a lawyer for the Maxwell Land Grant Company, respectively.  By the 1880s ownership had transferred to a Dutch Company which eventually sold off large chunks of land that would allow such entities as Vermejo Park Ranch (590, 823 acres) now owned by Ted Turner and the Philmont Scout Ranch (137,000 acres) donated to the Boy Scouts by Okla-valle_vidalhoma oilman Waite Phillips, to exist.  Not to mention the 100,000 acre Valle Vidal (right), now part of the Carson National Forest which was donated to the American People by Pennzoil in 1982.

philmontOn the left is a picture of the camping center at the Philmont Scout Ranch.  Who wouldn’t want to go to camp there? I did not have time to explore the road to Vermejo Park Ranch but you must have reservations to visit the ranch itself. A room at the main lodge will set you back only $550 a night, guides and four wheel drive transportation are extra.  Bucket list or not in this lifetime? I’m still on the fence on this one.  It does appear that Ted and his crew are taking good care of the land so more power to them.

The current county seat of Raton, Spanish for mouse or small rat, takes its name from the nearby Raton Range which was known for the abundance of small rodents feasting on pine nuts.  Raton has the dubious distinction of being located about equally distant from Denver, Albuquerque and Amarillo.  Not in the middle of nowhere but you can see it from there, as they say.  Raton became the county seat in 1897 having outstripped Springer as a railroad, coal mining and ranching center.

first_street_ratonnmOn the left is a picture of the downtown historic district which has a great selection of early 20th century architecture including the 1903 railroad depot.raton_depot  I do think the city fathers, Amtrack or whoever manages the depot need to give some thought to the negative aesthetics of cell phone towers, satellite dishes and power lines which really detract from the alarm_clockbeauty of this structure (and make it darned hard to photograph).  The alarm clock I found in a jewelry store window display on Second Street.  The downtown area appears fairly healthy but there may yet be opportunity for a girl to open a photo gallery there if returning to Oregon doesn’t work out.

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Quay County

I often wondered how a landlocked state like New Mexico came up with a county named Quay, which is equivalent in meaning to dock or pier.  It turns out the county was named for a Pennsylvania senator named Matthew Quay who was a strong supporter of New Mexico statehood. Continue reading

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Guadalupe County – Part 2 – Santa Rosa and vicinity

As New Mexico Counties go Guadalupe is middling in size at 2999 square miles.  That makes it larger than Delaware but smaller than Connecticut. With a 2010 population of 4687 there are only 4 New Mexico counties with fewer residents. A little over 60% of the population lives in Santa Rosa, the county seat. Continue reading

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Guadalupe County Part 1 – Vaughn

I was happy to pull Guadalupe County for my next destination for the In Search of New Mexico project because it is not too far from home and has some places I have wanted to go back and photograph.  When I looked at the map and saw that Vaughn was in Guadalupe County I got positively exited.  Many’s the time I have driven through Vaughn on the way to Roswell or Carlsbad or Texas and thought it would be interesting to stop and photograph but of course the light was wrong, I didn’t have time, I was on a work trip, etc.  So I vowed to make a day trip to Vaughn just to photograph.  Between wintery weather,  a bad cold and other commitmeboarded_upnts it took some weeks to make it happen but finally this week the window of opportunity opened and I flew through.  I hope you will enjoy the results. Continue reading

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Chaves County

At 6095 square miles, Chaves County is the 4th largest in New Mexico.  Chaves County is larger in land area than the state of Connecticut but smaller than New Jersey.  The 2010 population was 65,645 with about two thirds of that located in the county seat of Roswell.  Chaves County was formed in 1889 when several counties were carved out of Lincoln County which was then the largest county in the United States. Continue reading

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Taos County

This one has been a long time coming.  I started working on Taos County in 2007 but never got it written up.  When I first visited Taos County I studiously avoided the iconic tourist destinations but when I got home with only a few good pictures I realized I could not tell the whole story of the area without spending time in Taos and at Taos Pueblo.  So this year I went back and was much happier with the results. Continue reading

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Los Alamos County

At 109 square miles Los Alamos (The Cottonwoods) County is by far the smallest in New Mexico.  It is also the newest, having come into being in 1949 when it was carved out of Sandoval and Santa Fe counties.  Lands in the county are largely owned by the Federal Government with holdings belonging to the Los Alamos National Laboratory(LANL), the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. Continue reading

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Lincoln County – Carrizozo

As I mentioned in the first Lincoln County post, Carrizozo won a special place in my heart so it gets its own post;  and not just because it is fun to say.  Carrrizo is Spanish for a bottles_carrizozocertain read that grew in the area and the additional zo is thought to emphasize its abundance in the area.  The community was established in 1899 to serve the El Paso and Northeastern railroad which was being built to connect El Paso to Santa Rosa and points north and east.  With the rise of the highway and efficiencies making railroad stops less frequent Carrizozo has also declined since its heyday. Continue reading

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